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ABILENE AND SMOKY VALLEY RAILROAD DESIGNATED AS THE OFFICIAL KANSAS HERITAGE RAILROAD 

The Kansas legislature last week approved a bill that officially designates the Abilene and Smoky Valley as the state’s official heritage railroad. The legislation, HB2481, also names Santa Fe 3415, the railroad’s prized steam engine, as Kansas’ official steam locomotive. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.The designations are expected to give the railroad more statewide stature, while greatly enhancing the non-profit association’s ability to obtain grants and other funding options.

“This is indeed an honor,” said A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “Our organization was founded three decades ago on the idea of preserving the legacy of railroads as builders of our state. It’s great to make our mission an official Kansas tradition. More importantly, this designation is a great recognition of our volunteers and the tens of thousands of hours they have dedicated to the A&SV.” While the official status will be used as a focus in grant writing, Boelling said the A&SV will immediately begin branding itself as “the Kansas heritage railroad.” A logo has been designed that incorporates an image of Santa Fe 3415 with the railroad’s new slogan.

The legislation was the idea of State Representative Scott Hill of Abilene, who introduced separate bills in the House on January 12, one for the state heritage railroad designation and the other naming Santa Fe 3415 as the official state steam locomotive.  As the bills made their way through the sometimes tenuous legislative process, they were first combined into a single bill and finally bundled together with other transportation related bills.  The bundled bill was unanimously passed by the House 120-0 and Senate 39-0. The bill now goes to Governor Laura Kelly, who is expected to sign the legislation.

The bills first advanced to the House Transportation Committee, where Boelling was joined by Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Julie Roller Weeks and fifth grade students from Enterprise Elementary School, all testifying about the railroad’s local and statewide impact. The bills passed the House on a 110-7 vote and were sent to the Senate, where Sen. J.R. Claeys of Salina introduced the legislation. In the Senate Transportation Committee hearing, Hill, Boelling and Weeks were joined by fifth grade students from Abilene’s St. Andrew’s school in testifying about the railroad’s role in educating young people about the history and purpose of railroads. The bill advanced to the full Senate, where it passed on a 39-1 vote. The legislation went to a conference committee, then was advanced to both houses for Wednesday’s final vote.

“This proposal got lots of great support,” said Hill in referring to the positive testimony that was presented before the committee hearings. Hill said the testimony positively influenced his legislative colleagues. “The idea caught on for a lot of legislators,” he said. Hill said he was inspired to introduce the bill after observing A&SV operations, riding on trains powered by the steam engine, and upon meeting many of the railroad’s volunteer staff members. “The dedication of the volunteers was so inspirational…the dedication of the staff is indeed infectious,” said Hill, who added that the Santa Fe steam locomotive is a keystone of the railroad’s uniqueness. “The mechanic in me goes crazy every time I watch it in operation.”

From the standpoint of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Roller Weeks said the A&SV’s new statewide status adds even more importance to the overall story of Abilene’s colorful history as reflected in the city’s museum district.“This recognition highlights our town’s commitment to preserving our state’s rich railroad heritage. It’s attractions like this that contribute to Abilene consistently being named a best small town, offering visitors a unique and immersive experience in our history and culture.”

The Abilene and Smoky Valley is the only excursion railroad experience in Kansas and Santa Fe 3415 is the only operating steam engine in several Midwestern states. One of about 200 operating steam engines nationwide, the locomotive enjoys national prominence and is a popular tourist attraction. The engine is out of service this season, pending the Federal Railroad Administration’s mandated rebuild, which happens every 15 years. Boelling said the A&SV will be kicking off the ATSF 3415 rebuild project and fund raising in the next few weeks.

ABILENE AND SMOKY VALLEY RAILROAD ANNOUNCES EXPANDED SCHEDULE FOR 2024

The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad has kicked off its most ambitious schedule in the organization’s 31-year history. A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling said that as many as 300 trains have been scheduled for 2024. The highlight of the season will be the two special events: a return of the Great Pumpkin Patch Express Peanuts train in October and the railroad’s rapidly growing Christmas holiday tradition, the Cowtown Santa Express in November and December.

“We’ve never run this many trains before,” Boelling commented, “but last season, we learned that there is a great demand for what we do among people from an increasing geographical area. We are the only heritage railroad in Kansas, and people are coming from across the state, driving to Abilene for our train rides, dinner trains and special events. We’re trying to meet this demand by offering this expanded schedule.”

Boelling noted that the railroad enjoyed a 42 percent increase in ridership in 2023, and that the A&SV attracted passengers from over half of the communities in Kansas. But the railroad has increasingly attracted tourists from major metropolitan areas, including Wichita, Kansas City, Omaha, and Lincoln. He added that the A&SV also attracted passengers from 42 states and seven foreign countries last year.

“Our passengers do more than just ride trains,” Boelling said. “Our railroad relates a compelling version of Kansas history that most people have never realized. On our trains, passengers learn how railroads built Kansas’ agriculture-oriented economy, and how so many Kansas towns and cities were directly established by the railroads. People learn how dependent we have always been on rail transportation as a major force in our economy.”

The railroad’s Smoky Valley Limited dinner train schedule has been greatly expanded for 2024, with more special themed trains featuring regional caterers and expanded menus. The A&SV’s “Dining Car Heritage Series” returns in 2024, featuring menu items from the heyday of passenger train travel, when some of America’s finest dining was in railroad dining cars. The menus were researched by railroad historian Kevin Bailey, and the menus are being recreated by local caterer Lucinda Kohman. Last year, the Dining Car Heritage Series featured menus from four railroads that have directly impacted the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad: the Chicago North Western, Santa Fe, Rock Island and Missouri-Kansas-Texas. This year, two more lines are being featured, the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific, which served Abilene and Dickinson County.

Boelling said the Smoky Valley Limited is running more trains centered around holidays and special events. The A&SV ran its first dinner train of the season for Valentine’s Day on February 10. Regular trains relating to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Oktoberfest, and New Year’s Eve return to the schedule thus year, while trains for St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Spring Break, and the 80th D-Day anniversary have been added. And a special train will run on Mother’s Day weekend, “Jenny Seeyle’s Tea Party,” featuring four popular desserts once prepared by Seelye Mansion chefs, along with finger sandwiches and fine teas. Amanda Collins of Amanda’s Bakery and Bistro in Abilene has agreed to recreate the dessert recipes for the train. Seelye Museum director Terry Tietjens will assist in narrating the special train ride.

Boelling said the schedule will feature more runs of the Flint Hills Express, the A&SV’s excursion train, and the Meadowlark Flyer, the railroad’s school charter. Excursion trains will begin running in April on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule. School charters will run on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Excursion trains will run through September, Boelling said.

“We know from past experience that there is a demand for more train rides, especially during the height of summer tourism season an Abilene,” Boelling said. He noted that the depot has often attracted would-be passengers on days when the railroad was not operating who have stopped by the Rock Island depot while visiting the other museum attractions in Abilene. “We want to be available to more tourists. This will provide more support to our museum partners. We have applied to participate in Kansas Tourism’s ‘Sunflower Summer’ program benefiting Kansas families vacationing in Kansas.  If we are selected as an approved venue, we expect a large increase in ridership as Kansas families visit Abilene.”

The addition of special event trains was a major draw for the railroad last year. The Peanuts-oriented Great Pumpkin Patch Express drew 1,658 passengers during Halloween season, and the Cowtown Santa Express drew 3,044 holiday season tourists.

Boelling added that the railroad has discontinued its monthly “coffee and cinnamon roll train’ this year, but that feature is being replaced with a weekly special on Wednesday’s at 10:00 a.m. He said the A&SV’s excursion train, the Flint Hills Express, will offer a reserved ‘coffee and snack’ option in the recently remodeled Chicago car. 

“This will be a full two-hour excursion run, but we wanted to continue to offer a special coffee break treat. Passengers wanting a regular excursion trip can ride in the Enterprise car or in our gondolas for our regular price, but we wanted to offer the Chicago car upgrade for those desiring it. The nice thing is that we are offering it every week instead of just once per month.”  

Boelling concluded by saying “Our tagline is ‘We will move you in 2024”, and we hope you will join us this year.”

The railroad’s full schedule and ticketing information is available at the A&SV website, asvrr.org.

ABILENE AND SMOKY VALLEY TO INAUGURATE

84 YEAR-OLD GENERAL ELECTRIC DIESEL THIS SUMMER

A familiar sight on the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad will not be in service this season. Santa Fe 3415, the railroad’s iconic steam locomotive, is out of service for required maintenance until next year.

But Midwest rail fans will be introduced to an addition to the railroad’s lineup of antique engines, as the A&SV is inaugurating an 84 year-old rehabilitated General Electric 44-ton locomotive this season. And according to A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling, the engine had a remarkable career before finding its way to the heritage railroad’s yard located west of Cherry Street.

“We’ve always needed more engines in our lineup,” said President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “This engine, like our other vehicles, is being remodeled for modern use, and we expect it to generate interest among railroad enthusiasts.”

The GE engine began its long career in Kansas on September 26, 1940, as one of two of its class manufactured for the Arkansas Valley Interurban Railway in Wichita. It was listed on the AVIR schedule as Engine 93 and hauled passengers between Wichita and Hutchinson, until the line shut down in 1942. The engine was promptly acquired by the U.S. Army for wartime use and was shipped to San Bernadino, California, for use at the Norton Air Force Base. In 1969, the engine was transferred to the Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, for storage, until it was purchased the following year by Houston Track and Equipment in Texas. The engine was then acquired by Ideal Portland Cement in Superior, Nebraska, where it worked hauling rock between quarries and the company’s processing plant for several years.

In 1995, a private collector in Wichita acquired the 44-ton engine from Ideal Cement. According to A&SV founder Joe Minnick, the collector worked out an agreement with the Abilene and Smoky Valley to store the vehicle in the A&SV Abilene rail yard with the understanding that the railroad could use the engine for its excursion runs to Enterprise. The collector later donated the engine. Minnick said the engine was used sparingly by the A&SV until 2002, when sporadic engine problems forced the A&SV to discontinue use of the engine.

But interest in restoring the engine began last year when the railroad began to look for alternative sources of power to back up the railroad’s Alco S-4 switch engine, which has powered most of the A&SV’s trains since 1993. An examination by technical consultants from the Durango and Silverton in Colorado revealed that the locomotive’s engine could easily be repaired and placed in service. But the wheels, which were manufactured with the engine in 1940, were so badly worn beyond repair, and new ones would be required before the engine could be put into service.

According to Boelling, the railroad is purchasing new wheels, a $30,000 expense.

“Even though the engine was manufactured 84 years ago, we are unable to do this remodel at 1940 prices. Wheels for the engine, like all its components, are expensive today, and that’s the problem with running a railroad using antique equipment.”

Boelling said the engine refurbishment is being paid for by a combination of grant monies, donations, and bank loans. The engine is expected to be in the A&SV’s regular lineup sometime this summer, and its use will be alternated with the Alco diesel switch engine. Boelling said a formal christening and public showing of the GE engine is being planned.

“This locomotive is the sixth of this model to be manufactured by GE and today, it is the oldest surviving unit of this class,” Boelling said, adding that the reconditioning is in line with the A&SV’s mission to give new life to antique rolling stock.

“This is another kind of diesel engine that most modern day spectators have likely not seen, and its compelling story further enhances our mission of telling the story of how railroads have served the people of Kansas.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? RIDE THE SMOKY VALLEY LIMITED AND THE FLINT HILLS EXPRESS

In the heyday of train travel in America, railroads established a simple way to assist consumers in making travel plans by assigning names to passenger trains. Names like Super Chief and Empire Builder made trip planning easier, and, even more importantly, the names assigned to trains essentially became a brand of their own representing a certain fame and distinction that carried the consumer promise of good food, comfort, speed, and other important passenger services.

That same concept is being adopted by the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad. The railroad’s marketing and ticketing is now promoting two named trains. The A&SV’s excursion trains will be known as the Flint Hills Express, while the railroad’s popular dinner trains will be named the Smoky Valley Limited.

“The year 2024 will see some important changes to our operations,” said A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “As we’ve grown over the past few years, we’ve seen the need to name our trains to establish a brand that consumers can more readily identify with. And the names we have chosen have special regional and statewide significance.”

Boelling said that the process of naming the A&SV trains began with an informal poll on the railroad’s Facebook pages, where readers were asked to submit suggestions for branding the dinner trains.

“Several suggestions were made. We especially liked incorporating the Flint Hills and Smoky Valley names. We went with that and added two terms that were common in the naming pf passenger trains. In railroad lingo, the term ‘express’ signified that a train makes few or no stops, while ‘limited,’ meant that a train makes a limited number of stops. Both terms fit our railroad, since we are a direct trip into our sister city of Enterprise and we make a limited number of stops—in this case, we only make one,” joked Boelling.

Boelling said the names have special regional and statewide significance, reflecting the fact that the Abilene and Smoky Valley is the state’s only excursion railroad and consequently draws passengers from across Kansas. He said the names better brand A&SV trains as a product of the cultural heritage of the region.

“A name makes a train ride even more special and prestigious,” Boelling said. “Some famous trains have rolled through Dickinson County back in the days of passenger train travel. The Rock Island trains were known as the Rocket’ The Missouri Pacific’s Colorado Eagle used to run through Herington, Hope and Elmo. And the Union Pacific had a passenger train known as the Portland Rose that came through Chapman, Detroit, and Abilene. Today, we’re happy to take a page of railroad history and bring it to life for passengers on the Abilene and Smoky Valley.”

 

Improvement Campaign

We are facing a federally mandated major rebuild of our steam locomotive, former ATSF #3415, after the 2023 operating season.  Our ability to raise funds to accomplish the rebuild will determine how long it will take, but we anticipate it being a two year project.  We also are seeking matching funds for grants that will allow improvements to our passenger cars which will include new air conditioning, new PA system, and new electrical generator to power them.  Your help would be gratefully appreciated.  Click HERE to take you to a page with more information on these projects and with links to make a quick and convenient on-line donation to either project.  Thanks in advance for your consideration and donation.  Any amount will help and will be greatly appreciated.

Visit the Hoffman Grist Mill in Enterprise

The Hoffman Grist Mill adjacent to our tracks in Enterprise is UP AND RUNNING!  Various types of flour from the Grist

Mill are available to purchase along with many other items in the Mill Store and Gift Shop.  Ride one of the regular

excursions on the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad from Abilene to visit the Grist Mill during the train layover in Enterprise.  

(More information HERE.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO OUR PASSENGERS!

We appreciate your support!

We also certainly appreciate our volunteers who keep

the train running for your enjoyment!

Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad Releases Schedule For 2023 Cowtown Santa Express Holiday Trains

The “Cowtown Santa Express” will return to the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad this coming holiday season, as the A&SV expands its 2023 schedule to include more trains stocked with hot chocolate and cookies, holiday music and, of course, Santa himself. 

            The railroad hauled over 1,000 passengers for the holiday train’s inaugural season in 2022, which forced A&SV officials to significantly increase seating capacities for this year. 

            “Last year, we were new at developing holiday trains and anticipating their popularity,” said A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “We actually had to turn away people because our trains quickly sold out, so we’ve significantly increased the number of trains we will run this season.” 

Boelling released the 2023 holiday schedule last week, featuring 30 trains that will run from Wednesday, November 22, the day before Thanksgiving, and conclude on December 23. Two trains will run each evening at 5:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The train and the 1887 Rock Island Depot will be decked in holiday lights, and the railroad’s heated antique passenger cars will be decorated inside. 

This year, the A&SV is offering “value” and “premium” pricing levels, with fares increasing as time draws closer to Christmas. Families will be allowed to reserve full tables in the Chicago car, while single seats will be available in the Enterprise coach. Families reserving tables in the Chicago car will be required to purchase an entire table of four. 

Volunteer decorators will begin outlining the engine, passenger coaches, and the caboose in lights while also decorating the interior of the passenger coaches after the railroad’s November 4 dinner train. Boelling said it takes about two weeks to transform the A&SV train consist into a festive holiday experience. 

Although A&SV officials were surprised at the demand for tickets on last year’s Cowtown Santa Express, Boelling recounted a reason for the train’s popularity: nostalgia.  

“There’s something about trains and Christmas that go so well together,” said Boelling.  

“At one time, train travel was the major mode of holiday transportation when people traveled across America to visit relatives. Today, trains are still popular at Christmas, as so many grownups likely developed an interest in railroads because they got electric trains for presents as kids. And movies like The Polar Express have increased train popularity with new generations young people. 

“We’re happy to bring those associations to life and give kids of all ages a Christmas they will never forget,” Boelling said.

PRONOUNCER:

Ross Boelling (BOWL-ing)

CONTACTS:

Ross Boelling  (913) 449-3066

Steve Smethers (785) 341-1926

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